Citizenship judge emigrated from India to Canada with little English or French – now he swears in new Canadians in both official languages

(NC)—Shinder Singh Purewal came to Canada knowing very little English and certainly had no idea he would one day become a citizenship judge swearing in new Canadians in both official languages.

judge Shinder S. Purewal

Judge Purewal was born in India to a family of small farmers. His father was murdered when Judge Purewal was a month old, leaving his mother to raise a family of four. Having noticed young boys from the village leaving for Canada, his mother resolved that her family would live in a peaceful country. They arrived in Canada in September of 1979. Judge Purewal was 17. “I could not speak more than a few words and very basic sentences in English.”

Eventually, Judge Purewal went on to perfect his English, and committed himself to learning French. “Who wouldn’t want to learn the language of Voltaire?” Studying political history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario helped, as did interviewing Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau for his master’s thesis on the politics of multiculturalism. The insights he gained stayed with him, and have in fact driven his career’s success. “The English and French languages are the vehicles of advancement for any immigrants to this country.”

One might say that Judge Purewal walks the talk in his citizenship court in Surrey, British Columbia, by swearing in new Canadians using both official languages. He includes the French version of the oath and a few words of French in his ceremonies, he says, “to underline the fact that this country’s basic framework is based on the foundations of two languages – English and French.” This small gesture makes a big statement about two cultural realities in Canada, and about the federal policies that frame them.

2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act, which came into effect in 1969. “Placing value on Canada’s two official languages is an investment in the future, from a professional, personal and cultural perspective,” says Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser.

There is more information available about official languages on the Office of the Commissioner’s Web site at www.officiallanguages.gc.ca.

- News Canada
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